LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WIVB) — Erie County’s new ambulance service will be rolling out to help residents starting Monday. It’s a different story in Niagara County, where service is stalled, even after it was approved last year.
Erie County EMS was approved in the spring and is ready to start taking calls after just mere months. The same service was proposed and approved in Niagara County last June, but is being delayed after the legislature commissioned an outside consultant to complete a report on the project.
“Niagara County EMS needs to be up and running and not worrying about interfacility transports, but being available to back up the county agencies that are unavailable to respond,” Chief Chris McClune of the South Lockport Fire Company said. “Call volume for EMS are extremely high right now across the board. More and more often we are finding the commercial agencies aren’t available to back us up.”
The county is served by a few different types of ambulance services. The cities of North Tonawanda, Niagara Falls and Lockport all have career-based EMS, meaning it is apart of the fire companies there. Several other municipalities have ambulances through their volunteer fire service. Private ambulance services are used in some portions of Niagara County, but not everywhere. Because there is no public ambulance service county wide, it is putting added pressure and strain on local volunteer fire companies who say they are short staffed.
“Our communities dial 911 and we do our best to get there and help them in their time of need. The volunteer fire service dialed 911 asking our county for help and they approved it, we’re just not up and running yet and we’re just a little disappointed,” Paul Gurnett, chairman of the Niagara County Fire Advisory Board, told News 4.
Call times also vary depending on if the volunteer companies are staffed. South Lockport says most of its members have full-time day jobs that prevent them from responding to all calls.
“It [response time] could be anywhere from five minutes, if we happen to be at the station when we get a call, or it could be upwards of an hour. It all depends on where the call is in relation to where the resources are,” McClune added.
The county says the consultant’s report will address liability, reimbursement and labor, but that report still isn’t done.
Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Becky Wydysh issued the following statement:
We appreciate and support everyone who came out Tuesday night to express their views on Niagara County ambulance service. We continue to move forward and expect our consultant’s report, which addresses important issues like liability, reimbursement and labor, to be complete in the coming weeks. From there, we will move forward quickly.
Fire companies, though, still aren’t happy the process has taken so long.
“It just seems odd that it was approved last June and they didn’t bring a consulting firm in until a year later,” Gurnett said.
On Tuesday, fire companies from across the county protested outside the legislature before its meeting. Gurnett says he believes their message was heard loud and clear, and that progress is being made.
“It’s going to take the undue stress off not only our dispatcher center but out volunteers as a whole. If we can do anything to lighten their load sometimes or serve our communities better, that’s what we need to do,” Gurnett concluded.
The departments hope the service can be up and running by the end of the year.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy-nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.